As we've remarked before on several separate occasions, Eurocom's new GoldenEye is a peculiar mix of the new and the familiar. Thirteen years have passed, but somehow I'm here once again, fighting our way through a military base atop a dam in Arkhangelsk, Russia. Pierce Brosnan may have been switched out for Daniel Craig, the setting has jumped forward several years and the level layout is different, but in terms of feel and atmosphere, this is GoldenEye Chapter 1 all over again.
This is a significant demo in some ways, as this is the first time that Activision and Eurocom have allowed the press to go hands-on with the Dam level, rather than watching someone else demonstrate the stage. Bond, accompanied by his NPC ally (and soon-to-be nemesis) 006, begins the level by taking out some soldiers stationed in an around a watchtower at the edge of the base. The first two guards are taken down mid-chat via a classic creep-up-behind takedown; after that 006 heads off to secure a truck while Bond clears the tower. Just as the case was back in 1997, you're free to go in guns blazing or to take a more stealthy approach. I opt for the latter tactic, and against all expectations I actually do a half-decent job of silently snuffing the Ruskies - taking down the troopers with a silenced PPK.
As I reach the top of the tower, 006 notifies us that a small foot patrol is approaching the base entrance. While you're free to tackle this gang of five as you wish, the game encourages you to take the newcomers down with a sniper rifle that can be found at the top of the tower - one that's rather handily been fitted out with a thermal scope. When using this your foes stand out as white silhouettes against a dark background, making it easy to line-up and execute a series of lethal headshots. It's an effect that immediately recalls Modern Warfare 2, but as it turns out this is only the first of many CoD-like touches.
The next sequence finds Bond and his partner riding their commandeered truck towards the main entrance of the base. There's a short cutscene here, with the game retaining its first-person view. Though the sequence is quite brief, it's still laced with plenty of nice little details: Bond finds a photo of someone's girlfriend tucked behind the sun visor, takes a quick look and then casually throws it away. As the truck approaches a checkpoint, the posh-as-partridge-pie 006 enquires about whether Bond is still able to speak Russian; a terse exchange with the guards takes place, and when it becomes clear that the pair won't be able to talk their way into the base, 006 "does a Fargo" and caps the men leaning into the cockpit.
Naturally this causes something of a stir, resulting in another Call of Duty staple: the on-rails section. Bond shoots as 006 erratically drives through a small platoon's worth of troops, and eventually the vehicle flips over just outside another tower. Yet another Modern Warfare reference follows, as our two spies creep down an elevator shaft and, after peering through a crack in the elevator doors, prepare to breach and clear the room ahead. The doors are blown open in slow-motion, leaving the player with a few seconds to wipe out the surprised guards.
While GoldenEye supports no less than five different control setups, including the expected Nunchuck and Wii Remote combo, the Classic Controller appears to be the favoured peripheral at most preview events - and so the case is today. When played this way, GoldenEye handles much like any familiar console FPS. The left and right bumpers let you aim down your sights and fire, the twin sticks steer you about and guide your vision, while the D-Pad cycles through your weapons. There's an extremely generous snap-to mechanic in place, perhaps to compensate for the imprecise nature of the sticks, so it's extremely easy to take down the enemy - on the easiest difficulty at least. There also doesn't appear to be any restriction on how many weapons you can carry either - no Halo-style two-gun limit here.
As easy as it may be to cut through the Dam's Russian soldiers, if Bond allows an alarm to trip he'll find that the area will flood with reinforcements. As with Rare's original game, bumping up the difficulty setting won't just toughen up your foes - it'll also give you new objectives to complete, extending the length of the level. If that's not enough, Eurocom is also throwing in a difficulty setting that removes the recharging health mechanic, forcing you to ferret out hidden caches of body armour, old-skool style.
It's hard to fault the developers on their efforts to make this new GoldenEye as complete an offering as possible. Given the nature of the project it's unsurprising to see a lot of nods and winks in the direction of the original, but to its credit the game looks like it should be more than capable of standing on its own two feet. I like the fact that Eurocom isn't too scared to make significant departures from Rare's efforts. The set-piece tank chase from the middle of the film, for example, has been reworked to find Bond at the helm of a prototype super-tank - one capable of spitting out ludicrously smart anti-air missiles in addition to shells and machine gun fire. The chase itself is brief but a lot of fun, with 007 taking down incoming choppers, vehicles and RPG-toting soldiers as he tears across a Russian metropolis. The whole sequence is so over-the-top that it feels like you've suddenly jumped into a coin-op arcade title - an odd but rather refreshing surprise.
It would be amiss to end this preview without a quick word on how the multiplayer is shaping up. This side of the game has come a long way since the E3 build I tested at the end of July. You can now choose your default weapon loadout at the start of a match, and there's a wide range of characters to choose from - encompassing most of the game's cast and a smattering of notorious Bond rogues. Oddjob still gets to throw his lethal hat in place of grenades, but since he only gets three per spawn, it's no longer possible to hat-spam your way to victory. As sad as that is, the game is probably a lot more balanced as a result.
The Wii isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse at the best of times, and at times the four-player split-screen action can look a bit rough. The Facility level that I played in July is now looking pretty solid, but some of the other environments seemed to need a bit more work. Still, the important thing is that the game plays well, offering a fast-paced and competitive slant on the familiar deathmatch formulas. Eurocom is putting in support for online play too, but to be honest I'd imagine that most people will be sticking to local play; no doubt this will lead to heated arguments about who gets to use the Classic Controller (unless you're flush enough to own several).
Few people will be expecting GoldenEye 007 to surpass the legacy of its predecessor, but everything shown so far points to a rather successful reworking. After the cynical abuse of the license in EA's GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, no-one wants to see another bargain basement Bond, but with any luck this will be a GoldenEye worthy of the name.
GoldeneEye 007 will be released in November, exclusively on Wii.